This Lemon Ricotta Pasta Recipe is a staple dish in our house. It uses simple ingredients and comes together in one pan in 30 minutes! We love to use our favorite high-protein pasta from Barilla for a super quick and filling meal.
Ok, this is going to sound weird but I am obsessed with shows about Italy and its food. I have literally watched Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, Bobby and Giada in Italy, and Giada in Italy three or four times each…
There is just something about the way of life (at least on TV and that’s always totally real - right?) that is easy to fall in love with. It is always sunny, people are happy, and they are making and eating super simple dishes that are packed with flavor from these fresh ingredients.
That is where this lemon ricotta pasta idea came from. I had heard of it before and had it at restaurants but never made it. Then I saw it on an episode of Giada in Italy and I thought man - I need to make my own version.
This super easy recipe I came up with has sweet peas, fresh basil, and a creamy sauce made in a blender! So, let’s go pretend we live in Italy.
Looking for more fresh dishes to make while pretending you live in Italy? Try our Creamy Orange Risotto, Ground Bison Spaghetti (personal favorite!), or our Cheesecake Factory Copycat version of Tomato Basil Pasta.
- 1 large lemon juice and zest from lemon
- ¼ cup basil
- 14.5 oz Pasta spaghetti
- 2 cups ricotta
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- 1 cup parmesan
- 1 cup peas
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Make pasta, strain and reserve 2 cups of pasta water.
- While the pasta boils, add ricotta, parmesan, basil, lemon juice, and lemon zest to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
- After the pasta is removed, in the same pan, heat oil and add garlic, salt, and pepper and saute until fragrant.
- Add the ricotta mixture to the same pan and stir constantly to keep from burning. As it heats it will begin to melt down a bit as the cheese melts.
- Add 1 cup of pasta water to begin to thin out sauce. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper as needed.
- Stir in peas and let cook for 1 minute (still stirring). Then, add pasta back in and gently stir to coat. Note: add more pasta water as needed to thin out sauce (we sometimes add in up to one more cup).
- Enjoy topped with more parmesan and lemon zest!
Ingredients and Substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted.
Lemons: Lemons have so much flavor packed in a little, brightly colored package! We used the zest and juice from one large fresh lemon. This is about 1 tablespoon of lemon zest and ¼ cup of lemon juice.
Substitutions: You can use 2 small lemons or Meyer lemons instead.
Protein Pasta: Barilla protein pasta is the best protein pasta on the market, hands down! It has the exact same flavor and consistency as pasta and is available at many retailers like Target and Walmart. We chose to use spaghetti noodles because they get evenly coated in sauce.
Substitutions: Your favorite type of pasta or shape of pasta can be used, such as bow tie noodles, penne, rotini, etc.
Ricotta: Ricotta is a salty, creamy cheese. Kind of like cottage cheese meets feta. The saltiness goes awesome with the acidity of lemons! We recommend using full-fat ricotta for an extra creamy texture.
Substitutions: A combination of mozzarella and heavy cream can be used in place of ricotta. If doing this, use 1.5 cups of heavy cream and ½ a cup of mozzarella to replace 2 cups of ricotta.
Olive Oil: Nothing more Italian than olive oil! It's packed with healthy fats and easy to get!
Substitutions: You can use avocado oil, ghee, or butter in place of olive oil.
Garlic: Garlic is like love, you can never have enough! Ha, but seriously, sautéing garlic in oil enhances all the other flavors of this pasta. We prefer to use minced garlic because we are lazy.
Substitutions: You can use fresh garlic or garlic powder. Garlic powder is a replacement of 1 teaspoon powder with 1 tablespoon of minced garlic.
Parmesan: Parmesan is an essential ingredient. It gives the pasta richness and that gooeyness you expect from pasta. We recommend grating your own cheese because pre-shredded cheese often has preservatives coating each piece that inhibits how it melts.
Substitutions: You could use mozzarella, Asiago, or an Italian blend can be used.
Sweet Peas: I love a good burst of sweetness in a dish. Sweet and savory is my jam so it was a no-brainer that peas were going in this dish! We used frozen ones since they are cheap and easy to get. Just be sure to use sweet peas, or petite peas as they are sometimes called.
Substitutions: Frozen or fresh sweet peas can be used. You could also use spinach, fresh arugula, fresh herbs, asparagus, arugula, or mushroom. Or a combo of vegetables!
Recipe Testing Notes
Throughout our testing of this lemon ricotta spaghetti, we learned some key things that worked and didn't work. Here are the key takeaways!
Use a food processor: As we were testing this, we realized that blending the sauce ingredients didn't work well because of the lack of liquids. Therefore, using a food processor was necessary to blend the sauce thoroughly.
If you don't have a food processor, you can use a blender, but we recommend adding the pasta water to the blender in order to get a well-mixed sauce.
Use the pasta water: After this recipe is made, the sauce will thicken some as it cools down. We use the pasta water to control the thickness of the sauce. If you find that the sauce is thicker than you like, you can add more pasta water to thin it out.
To do this, add the pasta back to the pot over low heat, add ½ cup of pasta water at a time, and mix well. This won't decrease the flavor! It will just thin out the sauce to the consistency that you prefer.
How to Make this - Step by Step
Step one: Make the pasta according to the package instructions in a large pot of salted water. Strain, but reserve 2 cups of pasta water for the sauce.
Step two: While the pasta cooks, add your sauce ingredients (ricotta, parmesan, basil, lemon juice, and lemon zest) to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Step three: With the noodles removed from the pot, add oil, garlic, salt, and black pepper and saute over medium heat until fragrant.
Step four: Add in the ricotta mixture to the pot and stir constantly to keep it from burning. As it heats it will begin to melt down a bit as the cheese melts.
Step five: Add 1 cup of the pasta water to begin to thin out the lemon ricotta sauce. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Step six: Stir green peas into the pot with the sauce and let cook for 1 minute (still stirring).
Step seven: Add cooked noodles back in and gently stir to coat.
Step eight: Add more pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. We usually have to add another cup of pasta water. Enjoy with fresh grated Parmesan, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes if you're feeling spicy!
Watch How to Make This - Step by Step
The easiest way to ensure your pasta is flavorful and doesn’t stick to itself is to salt your pasta water and add a splash of oil to the water. This not only helps to make perfect pasta but the water is then a gold mine for flavor and can be and should be added back to your sauce to flavor your sauce without diluting it.
Facts and Common Questions
Can I use ricotta in pasta?
Yes! Ricotta is wonderful in pasta because when heated it doesn’t melt. It maintains the creamy pasta texture without becoming goopy, therefore coating every noodle and veggie in the dish!
Can I heat up ricotta cheese?
Yup! As I mentioned above, ricotta doesn’t actually melt when heated. That’s why it always maintains the same texture throughout the process of making a dish. This makes it exceptionally great for baked pasta dishes, like lasagna, because the cheese gets warm but still stays between the noodles, unlike cheese that melts and would melt right out of the noodles.
What can I do with a little bit of ricotta?
Pasta, pancakes, cookies, and so much more! This dish uses 2 cups (about 16 ounces), however, which should be the amount in a standard ricotta container so you should not have any left. But if you do, Ricotta only lasts for 2 weeks in the fridge so try using it in these Lemon Ricotta Pancakes or Lemon Ricotta Cookies.
Does protein pasta taste different?
It doesn’t have to! We LOVE Barilla Protein+ Pasta because it's available at Target, tastes literally the same as regular pasta, and cooks the same! There are some prominent protein pasta brands out there that do, in fact, taste very different. They are gritty and not as soft as traditional pasta. They also have a more earthy flavor versus a neutral flavor.
Is it okay to reuse pasta water?
Yes, you should reuse pasta water in your sauces. Starchy pasta water is perfect for thinking out pasta sauce because it has been flavored by pasta and salt meaning it will not dilute your sauce like plain water would.
Want to Save it for Later? Here’s how!
To save this for later: Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. It will keep in the fridge for 2 days and in the freezer for 2 months. Wait to cover it until the pasta is cool. The pasta will begin to dry out the longer it is in the fridge.
To reheat the pasta from the fridge: Add a splash of water or cream to the container and then heat a serving in the microwave for 1 minute, stirring it every 30 seconds. You can also do this on the stovetop.
To reheat from frozen: For best results, place the pasta in the fridge the night before you want to enjoy it, and then follow the steps above.
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